CPAs Helping Guide Tax Administration and Affecting Tax Policy

By Paul Bonner

Troy K. Lewis, CPA, CGMA, and Edward Karl, CPA, CGMA
AICPA Tax Executive Committee Chair Troy K. Lewis, CPA, CGMA, (right) with Edward Karl, CPA, CGMA, the AICPA’s vice president–Taxation, at the Institute's spring Council meeting in New Orleans. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber)

The Taxpayer Advocate Service will hear from AICPA Tax Executive Committee Chair Troy K. Lewis, CPA, CGMA, on Tuesday regarding taxpayers’ service needs and the IRS’s “future state initiative.” And in addressing priorities as well as directing its “future state,” the IRS should rely on CPAs’ unique vantage point to help guide tax administration and reform, the AICPA’s tax leaders told the Institute’s governing Council in New Orleans on Monday.

Members of Congress also have thanked AICPA leaders for their insights on tax issues, including those identified by Council last year, Lewis and Edward Karl, CPA, CGMA, the AICPA’s vice president–Taxation, told Council members in a session titled “The Shifting Landscape of Tax.”

Dissatisfaction with the IRS’s admittedly poor telephone service in assisting taxpayers and tax professionals and its outmoded systems prompted a resolution from last year’s spring Council meeting calling for an objective, transparent forum to propose how a modernized IRS might function. To that end, in February this year, Lewis, along with other CPA tax committee members, met with members of Congress and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (see previous coverage). Lewis said the effort appears to have led to a “spring thaw” in getting CPAs’ message through to policymakers.

“It was the opportunity we had, and we were going to seize it,” Lewis said.

Lewis has continued to provide a voice for CPAs and their clients and on Tuesday is scheduled to participate in a forum in Washington hosted by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. The session is one of a series around the country to gather insights from the public, preparers, and other stakeholders on the long-term operational plan the IRS refers to as its “future state initiative.”

Karl described some preliminary findings from both a recent “debriefing” meeting of members and a broader survey sent to all AICPA members following tax busy season that asked about telephone service, IRS correspondence, and other issues.

“One thing was crystal clear,” he said. “We heard from a lot of members that the delay in brokerage houses issuing [Form] 1099s, was a big problem this year,” one that the AICPA will look into further. Some members also indicated in comments in the survey that they saw growing challenges in resolving taxpayer identity theft this year, Karl said.

Lewis said he had testified twice before Congress during the past year to advocate that the IRS expand its identity protection personal identification number program, which currently is restricted to taxpayers who can prove they have been victimized by tax ID theft or reside in one of three pilot jurisdictions.   

One success in taxpayer identity security for which CPAs can claim some credit is a new provision of the PATH Act passed in December (Division Q of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, P.L. 114-113) allowing truncation of Social Security numbers on Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, Lewis said.

“Included in there was permission, finally, that we’ve been advocating for so long, to allow employers to truncate, just like a bank or anyone else, sensitive information on a taxpayer’s W-2,” Lewis said.

CPAs can also play a role in congressional tax reform, both men said. However, actual reform is hampered, they said, partly because political dynamics have thus far prevented broad reform—and will likely continue to do so during this presidential election year. Another aspect of the reform process is that Congress has tended to deploy previously floated proposals that raise revenue to offset spending, in a process known as “scoring.”

“It’s critical that we keep our eyes on previous proposals, even if their earlier passage failed,” Lewis said.

Paul Bonner (pbonner@aicpa.org) is a Tax Adviser senior editor.

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